Home' Grower : April 2013 Contents 1320643GRW18/4/13
The South Australian Grower -- April 2013
'Fruit wall' in ideal shape
for mechanised pruning
By JACINTA ROSE
grape pruning is
common across South
Australia's wine regions,
technology to help other
fruitgrowers mechanise their
orchard pruning programs has
been ineffective or slow to
A handful of Australian apple
growers are experimenting with an
intensive growing system designed
to cut labour costs and increase
mechanisation -- the fruit wall.
Originating in France, the fr uit
wall involves growing apple trees
in narrow, hedge-like rows.
Horticulture consultant Marcel
Veens says rows are spaced
between 2.5 metres and 3m apart,
and trees planted at 90-centimetre
inter vals along the row.
When the growing system was
first implemented, growers pruned
trees to a width of between 80cm
and 90cm. After many trials, most
fr uit wall orchards now pr une to
allow a fruit bearing zone 25cm to
Mr Veens said the first users of
the fruit wall pruned their trees in
winter, in line with the traditional
approach. But in the late 1980s,
French growers began pruning in
the summer months.
"Australian growers using this
system have been pruning at the
10-leaf stage," Mr Veens said.
"I think in the future we're
going to do it at the pink stage,
just before flowering."
When spring or summer
pruning is undertaken, no winter
pruning is required -- a
comforting thought for orchard
workers who want to avoid frosty
The narrow and uniform shape
of trees in the fr uit wall makes the
system highly suited to the
introduction of mechanical
Mr Veens said viticultural
pruning machines -- hydraulically
powered and mounted to a tractor
-- could also be used to prune
apples in a fruit wall.
Mr Veens said the ability to
prune mechanically can bring
significant labour savings for
operators, since a hydraulic pruner
can cover a hectare of trees in
three to five hours compared to
between 50 and 90 hours a
hectare for manual pruning.
orchard workers should follow-up
with a corrective manual prune to
ensure trees are in balance and
have optimum airflow and light
"Corrective pruning would take
30 hours a hectare at the most, so
using a mechanical pruner makes a
big difference," Mr Veens said.
The fruit wall system allows for
mechanical thinning -- using a
machine such as the Dar win string
thinning machine -- to cut labour
While the system holds
significant benefits for growers
looking for more mechanisation,
Mr Veens said its use in Australia
was limited to a few orchards.
"There are very few blocks
Trees planted 90cm apart
No winter pruning required
Ideal for Granny Smith
planted this way in Australia at
the moment -- we're just starting
to get the concept," he said.
"In Europe they have been a
little bit quicker to pick it up
because they're trying to save
labour, and in SA there's only one
or two blocks where growers are
doing a little bit more
experimenting with it.
"I think there'll only be a few
people who get involved with it,
and a lot of people will sit on the
fence. Most growers are very
traditional and this is a totally
"You have to plant very closely
and most growers are probably
not prepared to do that. It's a big
capital investment -- the closer
you plant, the more money you
have to invest per hectare."
The fruit wall creates more
uniform conditions along the row,
which can result in more uniform
fruit. Given that the trees are
smaller, picking is made easier and
a greater percentage of the
har vest can be picked in the first
Some growers worry about
crop sunburn because of increased
light penetration but Mr Veens
said it had not been an issue.
"You would expect more
sunburn, but in practical terms
you don't see it. The trees are
exposed to the sun the whole
year," he said.
The fruit wall is considered
ideal for varieties such as granny
smith and golden delicious, but is
highly suited to the red variety
Mr Veens says the system will
take off if robotic picking was
introduced into apple orchards in
the next decade or so.
Platform raises efficiency
WHEN looking to improve pruning
and picking efficiency in his apple
orchard through mechanisation,
Forest Range grower Matthew Flavell
has taken a creative approach.
Investing in a self-levelling
platform (pictured) has delivered
significant reductions in labour costs
and improved worker safety in the
Mr Flavell said he first came
across self-levelling platforms in
orchards -- including the Orsi Cros
165 platform his family now uses --
on an apple grower study tour
The platform is four metres long
and 1.5m wide, and has the capacity
diesel motor drives the hydraulic
system which levels the platform
and drives each wheel.
"We use this platform for thinning,
tree training, pruning and picking of
apples and it is well suited to the
steep country we have here at
Forest Range," Mr Flavell said.
"It offers better safety compared to
ladders, and with four workers on
the platform it is 20 per cent to 30pc
faster. An onboard compressor
allows the use of pneumatic snips."
Mr Flavell said the orchard workers
were impressed with the platform,
and hoping the Flavell family would
invest in a second machine.
Global wine thirst dampened
WINE grape growers across South Australia are
still being hit in the hip pocket despite a better
growing season than the previous three years.
The high $A and the European debt crisis has
"softened the Euro currency" according to NSW
Wine Industry Association executive officer Stuart
"It's very tough in terms of exchange rates -- it's
dampening demand (for Australian wine)," he said.
The weak global economy which weighed on the
growth of global wine consumption and
aggressive export-orientated growth strategies
from 'new-world' wine producers such as Chile,
South Africa and New Zealand and 'old-world'
producers such as Italy and France were also
Mr McGrath-Kerr said the abundant supply of
wine, not only in the domestic market but also on
the world market, the global economic slowdown
and the strong dollar continued to put downward
pressure on demand for Australian wine.
During the past decade, Australia's wine
bearing-area has climbed by almost 30,000
hectares to give a national area of 154,000ha last
year, but the increase was depressed by rain-
affected yields in the previous three years.
The average price for Australian red wine grape
varieties sits at $546 a tonne and white varieties
are lower at $379/t.
-- By REBECCA SHARPE
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